The campaigns for the impending referendum have fallen below the quality that the British people deserve. Many widespread beliefs are just not born out by rational analysis. The circumstances are particularly tragic as the referendum is of the utmost importance in shaping our future lives. Over the past 40 years a huge effort has gone into building our influence within the EU.
Starting with first principles, countries with similar values normally have more influence united than divided. For this reason there is general acceptance that the USA would suffer if it split up into its member states and that China and India derive benefit from their size.
Critics of the EU claim that it is bureaucratic and undemocratic. Democracy is widely regarded as the best system of Government. By giving everyone an equal vote we prevent the strong wishes of the majority from being overruled at election time. In other words democracy prevents the majority from suffering long-term tyranny. Nevertheless, pure democracy is not perfect. It does not prevent the majority from persecuting the minority. Concerns may arise over emerging candidates as illustrated by the support for Donald Trump in the USA. Democracy did not stop the rise of fascism in Germany before WW2.
Democracy is best tempered by additional safeguards. What suits a country will depend on its history. Some examples are an unelected second chamber with limited powers, a constitutional monarchy, a strong supreme court, freedom of information/the press, limited powers of intervention by the armed forces or police, membership of human rights institutions and a bill of rights or constitution. None of these safeguards can work without impacting on the powers of elected parliaments.
When politicians say that the UK should take its own decisions without Brussels they usually mean the House of Commons. They certainly do not mean the man in the street. The desire for parliamentary supremacy sits uncomfortably with the poor image that MPs generally have with the people. The surrender of some power to the EU is a desirable protection against the risk of a future, UK Government abusing its powers.
If the UK leaves the EU, new trade treaties would need to be set up between the UK and a sufficient number of future trading partners. Membership of the EU carries the benefit that the other members have similar values to us. They are all democracies within Europe that border onto one another. Any UK trade treaty with a country will necessarily reduce our sovereignty because we will be obliged to comply with its terms. Agreements with many countries including China and Russia may prove problematic because their governments may use trading with the UK to give them leverage in receiving support for polices that reflect their values rather than our own.
The issue of immigration is often raised by opponents of the EU. In fact, the EU has more clout in excluding illegal immigrants than individual countries. The EU has arranged for Turkey to curtail the movement of migrants across the border into the EU. The mass migration from the Middle East and North Africa is caused by war and so-called Islamic State. This trouble would not be solved by the UK exiting the EU. The main reason for the high UK immigration caused by the EU in recent years has been the migration of EU citizens from countries in Eastern Europe that have joined the EU relatively recently. Worrying about immigration of EU citizens is shutting the stable door after the horse has gone, since relevant people wishing to settle in the UK have generally already arrived. Turkey is not expected to enter the EU for at least a generation.
Freedom of movement in the EU has advantages and drawbacks. The disadvantages are more visible, for example with chaos in Calais and issues relating to benefits. However, the advantages are just as real. Without immigrants there would have been a shortage of staff willing to do certain work and too few people with a number of specific skills. British subjects gain from being able to work, retire or own assets anywhere in the EU. Most immigrants integrate well, initially often into their own communities. Many immigrants contribute positively to the economy because they are often healthy adults without dependents. In addition, immigrants are often involved in founding businesses. In theory, free movement of labour should ultimately result in every person having the option to move to where his or her skills will be most needed.
Working out the economic impact of an exit from the EU is complicated if approached by trying to keep track of all payments to or from EU countries and future immigrants and emigrants. Even if all the payments could be predicted there would still be effects caused by financial factors like exchange rate movements, interest rate changes and taxes applied by countries to our exports. One of the best ways to attempt to assess the future is to rely on the experience of experts. They can be wrong but they have a much greater chance of being right than the man in the street or many MPs. About 90% of economists believe that the UK economy would suffer from an exit. 81% of stock-market professionals believe that UK shares would be lower a year after an exit. A strong majority of top opinion leaders want the UK to remain in the EU, including a majority within each of the following categories: economists, businessmen, investment advisers, present and past UK political party leaders and Chancellors of the Exchequer, overseas political leaders, and scientists. The media can give the impression that expert opinion is much more finely balanced than is actually the case. Broadcasters, for example, may try to give each side equal air time. This can mean that if one side is supported by 90% of a group on an issue and the other side has 10%, both receive equal prominence.
Let us keep what we have and build on it.
Posted on 21 June 2016
TAGS Referendum EU European Union bureaucratic undemocratic democracy Donald Trump Germany fascism unelected chamber constitution constitutional monarchy supreme court parliament sovereignty House of Commons Calais China India experts economists politicians Chancellor of the Exchequer bexit Brexit strongerin immigrant emigrant Brussels brexitflotilla remain